WHO responds to Trump criticism, warns of ‘many more body bags’

The World Health Organisation's Director General has responsed to US President Donald Trump's criticism of the organisation, saying countries should avoid politicising the virus issue "if you don't want to have many more body bags".

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that "the W.H.O. really blew it," accusing the organisation of being "very China centric." He said at a news briefing that he would consider cutting funding to the WHO.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisation.Credit:Bloomberg

The UN agency has resisted following the Trump administration's line of accusing China of worsening the pandemic by withholding information, instead taking a conciliatory approach of praising all countries for their cooperation.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference on Wednesday that "the focus of all political parties should be to save their people." He said the WHO's stance was that even strong countries would be in more crisis without unifying.

He sought to rise above sharp criticism and threats of funding cuts, quipping: "Why would I care about being attacked when people are dying?"

Earlier on Wednesday, the WHO's regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, said "this is not the time to cut back on funding" for the organisation.

"We are still in the acute phase of a pandemic," Kluge said. He did not directly mention the US.

When asked if he had decided to cut funding on Tuesday, Trump backtracked and indicated that he is still considering the measure.

"We're going to look at it," Trump said.

The WHO has often operated on thin margins, relying on contributions from member states and other donors. During the current funding cycle, more than 14 per cent of the organisation's money has come from the US government, according to health news service Stat.

At the Wednesday briefing, WHO official Bruce Aylward also rejected Trump's criticism that the organisation "seemed to be very China centric." China is a WHO member state.

"We want to look at the World Health Organisation because they called it wrong," Trump said on Tuesday. "They called it wrong. They missed the call. They could have called it months earlier. They would have known. They should have known, and they probably did know, so we'll be looking into that very carefully."

Health analysts have countered that the WHO was reporting about a pneumonia of unknown cause in late December. The organisation declared a global health emergency on January 30. It then declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11 and criticised countries for not acting aggressively enough to limit its spread.

On Tuesday, the 24-hour death toll from the novel coronavirus surpassed 1850 in the US, a record for any country in a single day. The grim figure was reached as Wuhan, the Chinese city where the deadly outbreak first emerged, reopened after nearly 11 weeks of lockdown.

In a report sent to the White House, a panel of experts associated with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine finds that the coronavirus is unlikely to significantly wane with the arrival of summer, though many uncertainties remain.

These findings are in line with previous studies offering hypotheses regarding how the virus may behave in warmer and more humid conditions. They represent an attempt to help distil the evidence for and against reduced virus transmissibility during warm weather.

The report, known as a "rapid expert consultation," is addressed to Kelvin Droegemeier, head of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy and acting director of the National Science Foundation.

The report serves as a warning to the White House not to count on a summer respite and to brace for a second wave of the virus once the first surge in cases is over. Trump and the country's top infectious-diseases researcher, Anthony Fauci, have touted the possibility that the coronavirus pandemic may ease this summer.

"Given that countries currently in 'summer' climates, such as Australia and Iran, are experiencing rapid virus spread, a decrease in cases with increases in humidity and temperature elsewhere should not be assumed," the NAS report said.

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